A friend of mine holds a senior management position in a large insurance company. She recently applied for a mortgage to buy a house, and wanted income protection insurance. She applied to Suncorp for the insurance because she has banked with them for over 15 years and they provide her current and previous mortgages. She was declined cover because she disclosed that she was seeking treatment for a recent episode of depression.
Her depression is relatively minor and has not caused her to be absent from work. She has informed her manager and mentor at her employer, her mental health is being well managed by an experienced doctor and she is diligently following her treatment plan, which includes a prescription for anti-depressants, an exercise program and counselling. But this is not good enough for Suncorp, and they rejected her application without explanation.
Being an expert in insurance, she asked for an exclusion, which is something specific that is excluded from a policy. She sought an exclusion for depression, which would mean she would be covered if she lost income because she was injured in a car crash, for example, but not covered if she lost income because of absences from work caused by depression. Suncorp wasn’t interested in that either, and rejected the request for an exclusion.
My friend lodged a complaint and an appeal with Suncorp, and told me about it. She’s altogether too nice and too diplomatic for her own good, and I suggested some more proactive measures.
Step 1 was to make a formal discrimination complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (HREOC). It is unfortunate to read on the HREOC site that it has dealt with many cases of illegal discrimination against people with mental health issues. The good news is that the mediation and resolution of cases similar to hers have resulted in insurance companies being ordered to provide cover and, in some cases, pay thousands of dollars in compensation.
A set of Guidelines for Providers of Insurance and Superannuation, revised in 2005, clearly states that:
it [is] unlawful for anyone who provides goods, services or facilities to discriminate against a person who has a disability (or is an associate of a person with a disability). This includes provision of insurance and superannuation.
Suncorp has acted in deliberate opposition to the law in discriminating against my friend because of her minor and temporary mental health disability. Subject to forthcoming HREOC mediation, they may have to eventually insure her and perhaps even pay her compensation (which she would probably donate to a mental health charity like Beyond Blue).
One case was resolved like this:
A man who is receiving treatment for a depressive illness complained that he had been refused income protection insurance. The complaint was resolved when the insurer advised that it had re-assessed the application and would provide cover, apologised and agreed to provide $10,000 compensation.
But that’s not good enough for me. I’ve found my kind of vigilante consumer action is quicker and more effective in making amoral corporations account for their actions. I will go further and do what my friend doesn’t feel comfortable doing: publically embarrassing Suncorp and hopefully costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential earnings.
Suncorp’s discriminatory behaviour encourages people not to disclose their mental health status, and perhaps to even not obtain an official diagnosis, which must then be disclosed. The discrimination perpetuated by Suncorp undermines broader social efforts to destigmatise mental health issues and makes it harder for people with mental health problems to maintain their jobs, their homes and their quality of life.
Step 2 was to to ask me to publish her story with the aim of exposing Suncorp’s disgusting discriminatory behaviour. Suncorp don’t deserve your business. If you care about mental health issues and human rights, boycott all of their financial services and tell them why.
Step 3 is to secure a public apology and a statement from Suncorp confirming that it will act lawfully and ethically in future in relation to assessing policy applications from people who disclose mental health issues.